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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, on March 23rd, 2016.

shrimp_toast

Chinese in origin (I think), these little appetizer tidbits of goodness are quite easy to make. What they’re not is healthy in any way, shape, or form! There’s nothing bad in the ingredients – it’s just the frying that makes them rich, decadent, but ever-so tasty.

This appetizer is the oldest cooking class recipe I have in my collection. In fact, I didn’t even have this one entered into my MasterCook program – mostly because I hadn’t made these for about 40 years. Gosh, that one fact tells you I’m “old.” When I married the first time, way back in 1962, my then husband and I lived in Washington, D.C. for about a year. I worked for the Dept. of Agriculture during that time, and spending money on cooking classes wasn’t exactly within my budget. Then we moved to Washington State for awhile, then to Denver. It was there, back in the mid-60’s that I went to my first cooking class. I have no recollection how I found out about the class (given in someone’s home), and I still have 2 recipes from a class (or maybe more than one class). This one, and a chile relleno recipe made with canned chiles. Interestingly enough, both of the recipes were cooked in an electric frypan. Those things were very popular back then. So maybe both were made that one night and the class could have been focused on how to use the electric frypan in meal preparation. The recipe, stained with age and use (way back then) had somewhat cryptic notes – not a full-on detailed recipe as we might be used to today.

A few weeks ago – when I made these – I had a Vietnamese friend of mine come to my house and prepare a Vietnamese meal for a group of my friends. I’ll tell you about that in another post. She made spring rolls and beef pho (soup, pronounced like fuh). I rounded out the meal with appetizers (these shrimp toasts) and dessert (my lemon velvet ice cream and safari seeded cookies). So, when I was trying to figure out what to make I first searched online for Vietnamese appetizers, and mostly google came up with spring rolls. Well, we were already doing those as a first course, so I had to search farther afield, and ding-ding, this recipe came to mind. Even though it’s Chinese, not Vietnamese. Made no “never mind,” as the saying goes. They disappeared in a flash.

I forgot to take any photos of the prep process, or the frying. I was kind of busy trying to get these made just as guests were arriving, so just didn’t take the time. Here’s what’s involved. First you mince up some fresh, raw shrimp, about 1/2 cup. Then you add a couple of tablespoons of minced green onion, a dash of salt, a tablespoon of sherry (wine), a tablespoon of cornstarch and lastly, just before you’re ready to start making and frying these, 2 egg whites that have been beaten up until foamy.

shrimp_toast_mustard_dipI made these a couple of nights later and used the same recipe – I just didn’t turn the little toasts over to brown the other side – so here you can see the bread (on the bottom) is still just bread. And I didn’t heed my own directions – of spreading the shrimp mixture out to all the edges, so you see the bread in the oil almost got too brown. White bread slices are used – remove the crusts, then the inner portion is cut into small squares, about 1” square. You’ll get about 6 out of each slice of bread. Meanwhile, you heat up a frying pan with oil. You don’t need but about 1/4 inch of oil. I have a nice big newer electric frypan now, and I used that because you can maintain a consistent 350° with the oil – the recipe called for peanut oil, but that stuff is so darned expensive these days, I opted to use vegetable oil instead. It takes about 10 minutes to heat the oil. Then, using a spreader/knife, you spread some (a fairly tiny dab, actually) of the shrimp/egg white mixture onto the top of the little square of bread, and each one is placed shrimp side down into the hot oil.

It takes about 30 seconds for the shrimp to be done – and the edges begin to turn golden brown. In the first batch I did fry them on the other side. If you want to reduce the amount of fat you would consume with these, just cook the shrimp side only. The bread, which is not in oil at all will still be soft. You could try it that way and taste it. Do let them cool for a couple of minutes before eating them, as they’re WAY hot! You can make these in bigger squares (like 4 per slice of bread) but I think the little bitty ones make for easier finger food. Do serve napkins as they might ooze some oil onto your hands.

In the 2nd photo you can see the mustard dipping sauce. You don’t have to use the sauce, but it was pretty darned good. It added a little “bite” to the toasts.

What’s GOOD: crunchy, tasty, little bites of shrimp goodness. Don’t use canned shrimp! I loved these things, but they’re full of fat. The nutrition info below doesn’t include the oil I cooked them in – so am sure it’s higher in calorie and fat than indicated. Don’t serve too many per person – they’re very filling.

What’s NOT: just that they must be made immediately before serving. The recipe said they can be reheated, but no, sealed up in foil they won’t be anywhere near as good (and crunchy) as fresh out of the frying pan. You don’t have to use an electric frypan – it’s just harder to maintain an even heat using a small frying pan over a flame.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Shrimp Toast with Mustard Dipping Sauce

Recipe By: From a cooking class I took in the 1970s
Serving Size: 8

6 slices white bread — crusts removed, cut into 1-inch squares (use day-old, preferably)
FILLING/TOPPING:
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons green onions — finely minced
1/2 cup fresh shrimp — (or crab) minced
1 tablespoon sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons salt — (optional)
2 whole egg whites — beaten until foamy
Peanut oil for frying (about 1/2 cup) – or vegetable oil
HOT MUSTARD SAUCE:
3 tablespoons dry mustard
rice wine vinegar – add enough to make a wet dipping sauce

1. FILLING: Combine all ingredients except the egg whites and mix thoroughly. Everything must be minced up finely. Just before you’re ready to start frying, add foamy egg whites and mix in gently, but thoroughly.
2. Prepare frying pan. Ideally, heat an electric skillet to 360° and add enough oil to about 1/4 inch deep. You may also use a neutral oil, but the peanut oil imparts a lovely flavor.
3. Spread the filling on top of each toast piece and spread to the edges.
4. When the oil is hot, fry the toasts filling side DOWN until the edges have turned golden brown, about 30-45 seconds. It’s not necessary to fry the other side, but if you prefer, you can, but it won’t take long. Remove toasts and drain on paper towel for about 5 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, mix up mustard sauce by combining the dry mustard with rice wine vinegar until it’s the consistency of a slurry. Place in a small flat plate or a wide, but small bowl for dipping.
6. Serve toasts hot with the mustard sauce.
7. LEFTOVERS: They can be reheated in foil a 300° oven for about 10 minutes – but they won’t be crispy.
Per Serving (doesn’t include the little bit of oil that will be absorbed into the toasts during frying): 88 Calories; 1g Fat (15.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 537mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on March 23rd, 2016:

    This is how they are generally made over here –

    http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/22463/prawn-toasts.aspx

    I have eaten them in Chinese restaurants but have never thought of making them myself.

    Well, they’re very similar, I think. My biggest concern is the bread soaks up way too much oil – I suppose it might depend on exactly what temp it was – I think there is a magic temp for different types of ingredients when they (supposedly) don’t soak up much oil at all. But maybe bread is one of those that soaks it up no matter what temp! I don’t know. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on March 25th, 2016:

    This brings back great memories of eating in Chinese restaurants in Nebraska in my teens and later when my own kids were growing up. I don’t see it on menus as often these days. I only had it a few times, but I loved it! I miss those restaurants, too. One looked like a Chinese temple–the roof was of golden tiles imported from China, and there was a stream with goldfish in it running right through the dining room. It was beautiful, there was table service, and the food was great. I don’t remember the shrimp toast being greasy, but it’s hard for me to imagine how it would not soak up the oil.

    That restaurant sounds so interesting – none of the ones my family went to were quite so unusual, but we did frequent one in San Diego, back then (this would have been from about 1945-55) that had lots of black scroll work separating the red naugahyde booths, and we always had the same thing every time, eggs fu yung or pork chow mein, sweet and sour pork, soup and rice. I hadn’t thought about that restaurant in years. They didn’t have shrimp toast on their menu, and I don’t think I’ve seen it on any Chinese restaurant menu in the intervening years. . . carolyn t

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